James “Jay” Martin, CP/L, FAAOP: Inventor Embodies the Entrepreneurial Spirit, Inspires Others

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James “Jay” Martin, CP/L, FAAOP, founder and president of Martin Bionics Innovations, Oklahoma City, is passionate about invention, innovation, and entrepreneurship, and he wants to ignite that flame in others.

Martin works with the NASA team to help develop the next generation of exoskeletal robotics. Photographs courtesy of Jay Martin.

That passion has led to innovative concepts in advanced prosthetics technology and invitations to become part of the robotics and prosthetics development teams at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Revolutionizing Prosthetics (RP) 2009 program.

“In addition to my prosthetics research and development ventures, I have also founded a number of other entrepreneurial ventures based on various inventions of mine,” Martin says. “My ventures range from helping develop exoskeletal robotics to game-changing agricultural technologies that we believe will reshape how organic food is grown, and everything in between.” He adds, “Each of my ventures, no matter how diverse they may seem, has one element in common: They each integrate bionic-inspired designs to advance the human experience in ways that matter.”

Martin’s interests in inventing and entrepreneurship started early in life. In his 2011 TED talk, “Teaching the World to Innovate,” Martin shared some of the innovation ideas he had as a youngster, drawing smiles and appreciative laughter from the audience. These childhood creations included an automatic toothpaste dispenser, an electric shower curtain, and a glove with sandpaper on it. “This became my first commercial product, which I launched in the fourth grade…. I called it the Handy Sander. I actually did a limited production run on it and sold it to my neighbors.”

Martin became interested in prosthetics while in high school. After graduating from the University of Southern California, he received his prosthetics training at the Northwestern University Prosthetics-Orthotics Center, then returned to his native state to complete his residency at Scott Sabolich Prosthetics & Research, Oklahoma City. “In my residency I discovered that my patients’ functional abilities were limited not so much by their amputations as by a lack of available technology,” Martin says. “I decided to change that.

I had some initial concepts regarding advancements in clinical prosthetics, and I believed that if I could develop these new technologies, they would significantly change the lives of my patients.”

An Innovative Company Is Born

Martin launched Martin Bionics in 2002 and won his first research grant. Awarded by the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology, the grant provided funding for the development of an advanced robotic prosthetic ankle. His ideas have generated more than $2.5 million in research grants and contracts, and he holds numerous patents. The Journal Record, an Oklahoma business journal, honored Martin and his company with its 2008 Innovator of the Year award. Martin was also a finalist for the Frank Annunzio Award for innovator of the year from the Christopher Columbus Fellowship Foundation, an independent government agency that supports research and discovery.

DARPA Socket Development Generates New Solutions

Martin Bionics was invited to play a key development role in the historic DARPA RP 2009 program, for which Martin developed various prosthetic limb components and a revolutionary fabric-based socket interface design for people with high-level upper-limb amputations.

“Once the Modular Prosthetic Limb [MPL] was able to demonstrate the dexterity required and functionality based on neural signals, it became the goal of the Socket Development Team to enable this technology to be wearable and controllable by the amputee end user,” explains team member Courtney Moran, MS, CP (“Revolutionizing Prosthetics 2009 Modular Prosthetic Limb-Body Interface: Overview of the Prosthetic Socket Development,” Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory Technical Digest, Vol. 30, No. 3, 2011).

Conventional socket and suspension systems could not meet DARPA’s requirements. Available systems sacrificed control for comfort, or comfort for control, among other issues. As a solution, Martin created a modular, fabric-based socket design using available materials in new ways to increase comfort and provide structural support, flexibility, and modularity for fitting many MPL and user scenarios.

One of the primary needs for users of shoulder-level prostheses is to minimize pressure points without losing mechanical advantage and force-transfer capabilities, Moran points out. Martin’s socket uses “a lightweight shoulder-specific microframe structure that acts as the load-transferring and structural support…. Unique to the shoulder-level socket was the use of elastic, breathable sport fabric as a full surface-bearing suspension system instead of a rigid, resin-based socket.” Using a minimal frame to support a fabric mesh socket wall permits skin breathability and temperature regulation. “The minimal or microframe shape could be adapted to various body shapes and shaped with projections on which to mount neural hardware without compromising comfort, support, and breathability,” Moran adds.

Through a collaboration with Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Tennessee, Martin Bionics has also integrated superhydrophobic nanotechnology into O&P interfaces to keep devices dry and enhance hygiene and durability.

Close-up of the integrated superhydrophobic nanotechnology Martin helped to develop for prosthetic and orthotic interfaces.

The Bikini Socket is an alternative to traditional “bucket” designs for individuals with hip disarticulations and hemipelvectomies.

Martin Embarks on New Paths

In 2008 Martin Bionics merged with Orthocare Innovations, then based in Oklahoma City, to form the nation’s largest independent research and development group specializing in advanced prosthetic technologies. Martin became the merged companies’ advanced systems group director and director of technical services. About 18 months later, he left to pursue other creative avenues and launched several other new companies including Martin Bionics Innovations, Entrepreneurial Innovation™, a private technology start-up investment fund, and several others.

Current Technologies

Among Martin Bionics Innovations’ current products are the HealthyLimb product line for people with amputations: a daily moisturizer made from organic botanical extracts, which the website notes has been clinically proven to help prevent and heal diabetic ulcers, pressure sores, and skin breakdown, and an organic antibacterial cleanser; a hip disarticulation and hemipelvectomy interface; and the fabric-based shoulder socket technology.

Dubbed the “bikini” of hip sockets, the hip disarticulation and hemipelvectomy open-air interface design is less than one-third the size and weight of conventional hip sockets, and is cooler and more breathable, according to the company’s website. Instead of the conventional bucket-type socket, the device uses patented, lightweight, iliac crest stabilizers to provide a more direct biomechanical link between the device and its user for better control, comfort, and functional outcomes. “We have hundreds of hip- and hemipelvectomy-level users in the Bikini Socket design around the world, and have found significantly increased comfort and functional outcomes amongst those using it,” Martin says.

The second-generation Compliant Fabric-Based Shoulder Socket Interface uses Martin Bionics Innovations’ patented Compliant Force Distribution Technology to spread forces through fabric rather than a rigid socket for more comfort and breathability.

Next-generation shoulder disarticulation and forequarter socket interface developed by Martin Bionics Innovations.

NASA asked Martin to transition his fabric-based shoulder socket design into the space program to connect exoskeletal robotics and astronauts. “What we’ve discovered from our work on the exoskeletal man/machine interface program has come full circle and is driving new innovations in our socket designs.” He adds, “Throughout my career, my vision has remained the same: to advance the human experience through innovation. We have discovered how to more effectively mesh man and machine very differently than how we think of conventional socket fitting in the field. We are developing some other levels of socket and interface designs that we believe will revolutionize how prosthetic sockets for other levels are designed and fit.”

Martin also invests in various new technology start-ups and develops innovations in areas outside of O&P that he spins into new ventures.

NASA invited Martin to transition his man/machine interface technology to help connect astronauts with wearable exoskeletal robotics for comfort and function.

Inspiring, Mentoring Others

Martin feels he has gained valuable insights, experiences, and strategies that impact the effectiveness of his various ventures. He is eager to share his passion for innovation and the entrepreneurial experience and the important lessons he has learned along the way.

“As a start-up investor, I have mentored a number of people through the entrepreneurial side of their innovation, and have found that we are all designed to be creative, though very few really understand the practical building blocks of bringing their ideas to fruition,” Martin says. “I believe an aspect of my calling is to impact our world through innovation, and I have found that if I can equip others with the knowledge and resources to be successful with their own ideas, I can have a greater impact on our world as well.”

Martin teaches a course called the Entrepreneurial Side of Innovation at Oklahoma Christian University, and is often invited to speak at various venues about his experiences. He offers boot camps to help innovators from various fields and at all stages, from those who want to launch an innovative idea into a source of income or those who want to grow an established business, with a focus on applying strategies and resources to actual ventures.

Highlights, Family, Future

When it comes to career highlights, Martin says, “I’ve been incredibly blessed as a career inventor, entrepreneur, and start-up investor. I’ve been given a number of really unique opportunities and favors, including being a part of several amazing ventures and working with NASA. However, I think my career highlight would have to be seeing firsthand the impact on people’s lives who use the technology I’ve developed.”

Martin, his wife, Lisa, and sons, Micaiah and Jasher.

Martin enjoys time with his wife, Lisa, who he describes as “an amazing mom and best friend,” and two sons, Micaiah, age three, and Jasher, five months (at time of writing).

As for hobbies and pastimes, Martin says, “Prosthetic research and development is probably as much a hobby as it is a professional career.”

Reflecting on the current state of prosthetics and the future, Martin says, “We’ve made remarkable advances in the state of technology in recent years; we now have prosthetic components that much more effectively resemble the biomechanical movements and control of the anatomical limb. We still have a long way to go, but we’ve moved forward…. We still have a lot of opportunity to push the limits of how we connect the prosthesis and the human body together, and as we do that more effectively, in uniquely creative ways, that will result in an increased quality of life for those who use them.”

Miki Fairley is a freelance writer based in southwest Colorado. She can be contacted via e-mail at .

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